Evolution and Revolution: in our use of models methods and concepts?

It was good to see you all on Friday.  As I mentioned, I came to the meeting with a worry that in seeking out models, ideas, methods and concepts there was an unsaid assumption that we use abstract concepts directly in trying to solve problems rather than working with people that have deep, real-time contextual knowledge.  However, I do agree that models etc. can be useful in as much as they form “transportable” means by which we can talk about things and share experience and do so in a consistent way. 

In our conversation we recognised (and there were some great and varied examples) of the vitality between having a model (a pre-reconstructed thought that was shared with a group) and its interaction between those who have practical, contextual understanding as to how these things interact with the “real world”.  There was something interesting for me in how this tension was “contested”, by which I mean there was never a right answer for everything, it was something that was being negotiated.  And it was in this negotiation that there was value.  For me (in my experience in strategy and policy– another form of model) I really don’t think we pay enough attention to this dynamic.

So, my question (if we were to run the session again) would be: how do we pay attention to the dynamic between models and frameworks and how these are picked up and worked with in people’s day to day activities?  And in doing so, how can we improve the practice of making and using frameworks etc.

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Hi, Rob

Many thanks for your helpfully provocative response to the initial provocation of this engagement.  In my view, you stimulated an important exploration of the pros and cons of working with 'models' (whatever these may be).  This has now set me more consciouslly (explicitly?) on several lines of inquiry and reflection about how we are able to critique in the moment our adoption of what are often called models, tools, techniques, methods etc.  For me, one springboard for this is a 'framework' for working with variations of Action Learning that I and a colleague have been playing with (see the Autumn 2011 issue of e-O&P).

Let's keep this conversation going.  Kind regards.  Bob

Hi Rob

Thanks for your questions on Friday and this one here.  My freshest thinking (thanks Christine for that one) is that while frameworks are unavoidable and models may have practical utility, we need to pay careful attention to them in practice.  

The biggest risk I see at the moment is becoming trapped in those models - especially mental models.  Since any framework or model is always simpler than reality, however right it is, it is also wrong.  

While we can't stand outside of our own models and frameworks, there are things we can do, I think:

  1. First, we can seek out multiple, even competing perspectives.  This is not a post-modern, 'anything goes' notion, since that, in itself, is a world view.  
  2. Second, I think there's something about how we use models and frameworks.  Most dangerous, I believe, is when we use them to close down thinking. When we work within a particular model and assume that it is 'right'.  However  I think we can also use models to open up thinking, use them as a stimulus for critical reflection.  

While the 'we' above is a generic one of 'people', I think that we as OD practitioners can do two things.  We can encourage  both multiple perspectives and critical reflection in the work we do.


Hi Rob and all,

My freshest thinking on this is a re-affirmation of the importance of being comfortable to ask "what's really going on here?", suspending the pressure to have a neat explanation (model) and feeling safe to "say what you see" even if (especially if) you can't immediately explain or make sense of it, or provide a 'solution' to it.

Models can serve us in a number of ways, as long as we always remember that they are approximations and simplfications of reality - not reality itself.

  • having to simplify and explain your understanding of what's going on, to communicate it to others, means that you pick out what you consider to be significant;
  • hearing about a new model which is different to your own explicit or unconscious model, confronts you with a challenge and can help you see what's going on in a richer and new way, and can make sense of a complex reality which you were unable to see patterns in;
  • a model can give 'beginners' something to hold on to, while they are on a steep learning curve.  As people become more expert, they can move beyond these models and cope with more complexity.

What you remind me here, Penny, is that half an idea is often better than a whole one.  When I need help to articulate it it is easier to reach a shared understanding. 

Penny Walker said:

... the importance of being comfortable to ask "what's really going on here?", suspending the pressure to have a neat explanation (model) and feeling safe to "say what you see" even if (especially if) you can't immediately explain or make sense of it, or provide a 'solution' to it.



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